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Terminated? At least talk to a lawyer

So, you’ve just been fired and the employer wants you to sign a package. What are you supposed to do next? Of course, my answer is to call an employment lawyer, but I want you to understand why.

First, there is no easy way to determine your common law rights to notice. It is based on your age, seniority, level of responsibility, health status, job market and a variety of other factors. The idea that you can go online and use some sort of reasonable notice calculation program is stupid and misleading. You should speak to an employment law attorney about your particular situation. Sometimes terminated employees attempt to negotiate with their employer without a lawyer. When that employer asks his lawyer how generous his answer should be, he is often told to put the employee down. If they weren’t prepared to hire a lawyer, the employer can get away with paying less. The employee, in the absence of proper legal advice, will never know that he is receiving less than he could have received.

Many employers write letters referring to contracts signed years ago that seem to limit you to a certain termination formula or the minimums of the Ontario Employment Standards Act. Due to changes in case law in recent years, the vast majority of these contracts are null and void. They do not limit your right. You are entitled to reasonable notice at common law. Even a word in the wrong place can nullify these provisions. Without consulting an employment lawyer, you may be led to believe that you have to accept what the employer offers you.

Bonus plans often have wording stating that if you are not there at the time of payment, you do not receive the bonus. Unless the employer has used very specific language, this provision is probably not enforceable. An unrepresented person will not be able to report that the provision is void and collect the premium.

Many people are afraid of the cost of consulting a lawyer. Most experienced labor lawyers will work on an unscheduled basis. They will charge you a percentage of any upgrade from your original offer that they get. This amount is a full tax deduction, so it’s actually a lower cost than the percentage itself. Any experienced employment lawyer should be able to talk to you and review your case and quickly know if there is room for improvement. They will charge you a small fee for the initial consultation, but if it turns into a case, it would be waived in favor of the contingency fee.

Most experienced employment counselors don’t give a free half hour for an initial consultation because if they did, they’d be spending the whole day working for free. You risk a few hundred dollars to get the right advice, but even if nothing can be done, at least you won’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering what you missed. There’s enough fuss involved in a termination. At least have the peace of mind of getting proper advice.

It has been said that you don’t go to a lawyer for justice, you go to a lawyer for the law. An employment lawyer can thwart rumors and half-truths you may have heard about your rights. If you’ve lost your job, no outcome will ever look like real justice. But at least you will have protected your rights.

Ed Canning practices employment and human rights law at Ross & McBride LLP in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. Email him at [email protected] for more information on employment law;